Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - June 24, 2010

From: Aurora, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Turf, Grasses or Grass-like, Wildflowers
Title: Native xeric grasses for Colorado
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Tired of mowing - replacing western exposure full sun lawn with native xeric grass. Please explain the pros and cons of Bouteloua Gracilis (Blue Grama) and Bouteloua Dactyloides Bella (Bella Blue Grass). Also, what native wildflowers would be good companions with each without taking over.

ANSWER:

You can read about the research on turfgrasses that the Wildflower Center has been conducting in our article, Native Lawns.  We also have two How to Articles—Native Lawns: Buffalograss and Native Lawns: Multi-Species.  Two of the grasses—Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss) and Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama)—are native to Colorado, but Hilaria belangeri (curly-mesquite) does not occur naturally in Colorado.  There is, however, a closely-related Colorado native warm-season grass, Pleuraphis jamesii [syn. Hilaria jamesii] (James' galleta), that has a similar size and growth pattern that could be substituted for the curly-mesquite.  Bella (or Bella Bluegrass) that you mention is a short, drought-tolerant cultivar of Poa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass) developed and patented by the University of Nebraska.  It apparently tolerates heat and drought better than other varieties of bluegrass; but, according to UCVerdeBuffalograss.com it is not as drought tolerant as the UC Verde Buffalograss (developed by University of California Davis and University of California Riverside).  According to Todd Valley Farms, Bella bluegrass has only been available for sale since 2008 so there isn't much yet in the way of reviews of its features.  However, its advantages seem to be its low growth, requiring no or infrequent mowing; the fact that it does not go dormant in the winter; and its low water use and heat tolerance compared to other bluegrass varieties.  Buffalograss is low-growing and uses even less water and is more heat tolerant than Bella, but it does go dormant and turns brown in the winter.

Your site with full sun sounds perfect for buffalograss, blue grama and James' galleta.  You will have to be the judge of whether you want to try the Bella bluegrass depending on your rainfall and/or willingness to water.

Here are some wildflowers that you can use with your lawn.  There shouldn't be a problem with them overtaking the grass.  They should do quite well together.  You can read our How to Article, Meadow Gardening, to see how the grasses and wildflowers go together quite compatibly.

Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) is perennial and blooms April through September.

Cleome serrulata (Rocky Mountain beeplant) is annual and blooms July through September.

Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover) is perennial and blooms June through September.

Delphinium nuttallianum (twolobe larkspur) is perennial and blooms March through July.

Gaillardia aristata (common gaillardia) is perennial and blooms July through September.

Liatris punctata (dotted blazing star) is perennial and blooms August through October.

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia (tanseyleaf tansyaster) is an annual and blooms May through October.

Ratibida columnifera (upright prairie coneflower) is perennial and blooms May through October.

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan) is annual and blooms June through October.

You can find more wildflowers for your site in our Colorado Recommended list.

Here are photos from our Image Gallery:


Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua gracilis

Pleuraphis jamesii

Achillea millefolium

Cleome serrulata

Dalea purpurea

Delphinium nuttallianum

Gaillardia aristata

Liatris punctata

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia

Ratibida columnifera

Rudbeckia hirta

 

 

 

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Ground cover for steep slope in Washington DC
May 07, 2010 - We have a steep slope in our garden in Washington DC which has sun from noon to sun set. Could you please recommend some low maintenance plants which would be a good ground cover and limit erosion?
view the full question and answer

Turf grasses and alternatives for NH
October 23, 2010 - I live in Hancock, NH, just north of Peterborough. We just bought a relatively new house that pretty-much has no lawn and minimal landscaping. Can you (or anyone) suggest native lawn grass alternati...
view the full question and answer

Native alternative to Japanese grass from Lake Jackson TX
May 16, 2013 - Is there a native alternative to Little Kitten maiden grass? I was asked to comment on a plan and don't want them to introduce another Japanese plant into our local habitat.
view the full question and answer

Mixture of native grasses as opposed to buffalo grass monoculture
November 26, 2003 - My husband and I just built our home on Lake Travis. Our lot is very rocky and is on the side of a hill. We would like to plant something on the incline at the front of our home that doesn't need a l...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen native plants for slope in South Carolina
July 14, 2008 - We would like to plant an evergreen garden in our backyard, which is on a slope. It receives the sun from approx 9-4. We have an above ground pool, and patio area. Would also like a recommendation of ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.